[From How the Manx Fleet helped in the Great War, 1923]
THE story of the SNAEFELL (the "Baby Liner" of the Fleet) is full of interest to all those to whom she had become the beau ideal of a Winter boat for the Manx service
She was chartered by the Government on November 23rd, 1914, and after necessary alterations and armament had been carried out by Cammell Lairds, she sailed from Birkenhead on December 18th. 1914.
She carried two 12-pdr. guns, the bore of these being about 3 ins. , and one 2-pdr. quick-firing anti-aircraft gun. Her crew consisted of 105 hands all told,
Her destination was Plymouth, where she became one of four coasting steamers, which formed part of the Plymouth Patrol. Her work consisted in patrolling from Start Point to the Lizard and Lands End, and from midway across the English Channel ; the French Navy having charge of the French side.
As a rule, she was at sea four days, and in port two days every week. Her duty was to hail all passing vessels, and to give them necessary instructions as to the position of enemy submarines, etc, Her work at this time was, in fact, very similar to that of the Peel Castle already described.
On April 3rd, 1915, an incident occurred, which caused much regret on board. An enemy submarine came to the surface on the Snaefells starboard bow, a shot being fired at it, which, however, missed. Immediately afterwards, when the submarine was quite on the surface only about thirty yards away, right abeam,and in such a position that those on board thought that there could be no doubt as to the next shot taking good effect, the gun misfired. A glorious chance of sinking one of these pests was therefore lost, as the submarine immediately submerged, and was not seen again.
June 29th, The Snaefell proceeded to Milford Haven for the purpose of escorting the monitor Raglan to Gallipoli. The Raglan was one of a number of the extraordinary craft specially designed for the War. She was a very large vessel with an enormous amount of beam, and carried two 14-inch guns, also a number of smaller ones.
Considerable difficulty was experienced in escorting the Raglan, as in bad weather she was almost unmanageable. An attempt to tow her on the part of the Snaefell completely failed, as she had not strong enough gear for this work. Whilst the Snaefell was thus dodging round the Raglan, there must have been considerable danger of submarine attack, if any of these craft had happened to be in the vicinity.
After the arrival of the Raglan at the Dardanelles, the Snaefell worked along with her on many occasions, carrying seaplanes, which were sent up to spot for the monitors gunners. For a considerable period, the Raglan was the flagship of the squadron of which the Snaefell formed a part.
It is very interesting to know that the Snaefell did important work in the operations at Gallipoli, including the landing of troops at Suvia Bay. Mudros, on the island of Lemnos, some sixty miles from the Dardanelles, was her base for a considerable time. Her duty was the conveying of troops, stores, etc., between Mudros and Cape Hellas on the Gallipoli peninsula. She was very busy in this way, until August 6th, when she was sent to the island of Mitylene to embark troops for Suvia Bay, about halfway up the Gallipoli peninsula. Arriving there at 5 am. she went close up to the coast, almost on to the beach, in order to land her troops. It is well known that the Turks had taken up strong positions to resist this landing. and their shell fire soon became too hot for the Snaefell, and she was hit several times by shell and shrapnel. It therefore became necessary to heave up, go to a safer anchorage, and complete the landing of the troops by boats. The Turks were meanwhile gradually forced to retire inland, and later on in the afternoon their shells failed to reach the sea.
Her next work was to patrol the coast of Asia Minor. The portion allotted to her was a narrow gulf called Andramzti, and her duty was to watch the shore for Turkish caravans conveying stores, etc., by land to Gallipoli. Whilst thus engaged, she ran upon a rock and stuck fast. Some of the bottom-plates in the forehold were torn apart, but the crew were able to plug up the openings with wood, and an effort was made to back off by means of the engines, but they were unable to move her. It was then decided to lighten the ship by throwing overboard some of the coal. Assistance had been asked by wireless, and about 5 p.m., three destroyers steamed up the gulf, and the sea they raised in coming up floated the Snaefell, so that she was enabled to "back off." She then proceeded at full speed to her base, where the divers were able to stop up some more of the leaks. Then she steamed for Alexandria, arriving there on August 25th, 1915, where the repairs were executed, and she was able to return to duty in about six weeks time.
It must be borne in mind that the Snaefell was constantly cruising about a coast, with which the commander could not be very intimately acquainted, and the only wonder is that accidents, by striking submerged rocks, were not of more frequent occurrence.
The Snaefells next work was the patrolling of the Bulgarian coast. While thus engaged she was hit by a 6-inch shell, fired from a Turkish gun on the land, and a large hole was made in her port quarter, but no one was hurt, Her work was interfered with a good deal by aeroplanes dropping bombs.
The Bulgarians seemed to take much delight in this occupation which, for them, was not dangerous, but for the Snaefell it meant continual risk of destruction, and it was only by dint of very skilful manoeuvring that she was able to avoid this danger. She had, at this time, no means of defence against this mode of attack. However, an anti-aircraft gun was ultimately fitted, and the aeroplanes, thenceforth kept at a more respectful distance.
Another source of danger was the presence of enemy floating mines, about six of which they sank, or else blew up.
During the summer of 1916, the Snaefell went to Genoa for a refit, and in the autumn of that year was back again on the Bulgarian patrol.
She afterwards took part in the evacuation of Gallipoli, the arrangements for which were carried out both cleverly and quietly, not a shot being fired.
After this event had occurred, the island of Crete became her base, and she was engaged in conveying troops from Alexandria to Salonica.
About July and August, 1917, the Snaefell was again at Genoa getting a refit, and was altered to adapt her for carrying troops.
When she resumed her active work, she carried troops from Italy to Alexandria, their ultimate destination being Mesopotamia. One night, when loaded with Turkish prisoners from Cyprus to Salonika to labour for our army, the ship was heavily shelled by a submarine in the dark, but, being so crowded, they showed a clean pair of heels, and thus escaped.
In November, 1917, the Admiralty relieved those of the crew who had been on board for over two years, and Mr. Robert Moore, to whom I am indebted for the above information, left the ship for home on November 30th.
The latter part of the career of the Snaefell was most unfortunate, the final catastrophe being brought about in the following manner.
After doing her ordinary work of troop carrying, etc., she was sent, in April, 1918, to Alexandria for a refit. The work was completed, and the day fixed for a dock trial of the machinery, prior to her departure.
On May 4th 1918, the night prior to the projected dock trial, a fire broke out about midnight in one of the private rooms on the promenade deck, and, although every effort was made to extinguish it by the officers on board, the fire burnt for about six hours. Consequently nearly all the upper work in the middle of the ship was destroyed. The main engines and boilers were, however, undamaged. The fire was eventually subdued by the Alexandrian fire brigade. It was then decided to effect temporary repairs with wood, so that the ship could proceed homewards under her own steam.
The carrying out of these repairs occupied a month. When completed, the Snaefell sailed for Malta in a convoy consisting of three ships, the Snaefell being one of the three. They were escorted by a sloop and two armed trawlers, the speed at which they had to travel being that of the slowest vessel about eight knots per hour [sic!].
The convoy left Alexandria on a Sunday night, and on the following Wednesday night the Snaefell was torpedoed by a hostile submarine.
She was struck in the boiler space, the result being that an immense volume of steam was released, scalding one fireman to death, and so badly injuring two others, that they died soon afterwards. Their names were Duncan, Coleman, and Woff [sic Woof].
Although the boiler space must have been quickly filled with water owing to the extensive damage received, the ship remained afloat for nearly an hour. Thus there was plenty of time for the transference of the crew to one of the accompanying trawlers. After two and a half days sail they were safely landed at Malta.
Thus ended the Snaefell, one of the most popular coasting steamers ever built. Her popularity as a winter boat on the Manx Service was such that even to this day her loss is spoken of with keenest regret by regular travellers to the Isle of Man.